Basement design: Decorating for a cozy getaway space

A Stony Brook basement that was redone by A Stony Brook basement that was redone by Alure Home Improvement, which is based in East Meadow. Photo Credit: Handout

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Dark, damp, musty and a cluttered eyesore -- these are just some typical descriptions of basements. And after superstorm Sandy, flooded.

The lowest room in the house was destroyed in many Long Island homes. Before launching into a makeover, Ned Bowen, project manager for Chris Donovan Associates Inc. in Shirley, says homeowners must know what type of water damage they had and the proper remediation process.

"What we're seeing is a lot of saltwater damage," says Bowen, whose company specializes in basement remodeling. "Salt draws water. Mold and mildew are your biggest problems. You have to remove the Sheetrock, the insulation and the wood framing, anything that came in contact with salt water."

He further explains that the salt left on the walls will draw mildew-causing water both from the outside environment and from within the room.

"If you haven't treated it properly, you'll see additional mold and mildew problems during the heat and humidity of June and July," Bown warns.

Once you've properly removed materials and treated for mold and mildew -- or hired a professional to do so -- it is time to think about what to do with the space.

Of those left intact by the storm, basements are often chilly and rank second in messiness only to the garage. Yet, the average basement has an abundance of storage and living options, making it a terrific place to renovate, adding value and enjoyment to your home.

FUNCTION FIRST

Determining how you want to use the space is the first step in planning your basement renovation. Whether you want to create a wine cellar, exercise center or media or craft room, figure out how much space each would require. Start with a scale drawing of your basement. Be sure to include any pillars, beams or other facets that can't be moved or changed, and indicate any windows, doors or stairs. Once you can visualize the space, work with scale-sized cutouts of furniture or appliances to make a mock-up of your new layout.

BASIC ELEMENTS

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If your renovation work requires a work permit, be sure to secure one. Also, be aware that basement renovations are quite different from those in the rest of the house. Dealing with moisture and cold requires extra waterproofing and insulation before standard items like drywall and flooring go in. Another important concern is the ceiling. In basements, the two choices are a suspended ceiling (known professionally as an acoustical tile ceiling) or drywall, and each has its merits. As a rule, though, a finished, drywall ceiling looks more finished and attractive. One of the advantages of an acoustical tile ceiling is that it allows access to plumbing and electrical equipment that is usually housed between the first floor and the basement. The drawback is that the acoustical tile ceiling eats up 2 to 4 inches of the room's height.

"If you only have 6 feet of headroom down there, you need to save the height, which a drywall ceiling will do," says Bowen, who added that most contractors prefer the acoustical tile ceiling because of ease of access to plumbing and electrical. Once the ceiling and walls are in, the floor is your next challenge.

THE FLOORING

Basement flooring often must stand up to moisture, making tile, vinyl or faux wood terrific options. Of course, if water isn't an issue, carpet is a warmer choice. Due to the chilly nature of many basements, be sure to consider heating. Radiant heat under the floors is a cozy option and sends heat upward. Baseboard heaters are another good choice. If flooding has been an issue, Bowen recommends using the radiant heat that uses warm water flowing through rubber tubing, rather than an electrical grid. "If you have a flood and the electrical grid gets wet, it will corrode," Bowen says. "The rubber tubing is impervious to water."

But the rubber tubing system may require making adaptations to the water-heating system. "The water in the tubing is about 65 to 75 degrees," Bowen says. "The potable water in your house is about 160 degrees, which is too hot for the radiant heating system."

DETAILS, DETAILS

Light is another key element. With few or no windows, most basements need extra lighting. Opt for small, bright white halogen spotlights instead of large, recessed can lights. They're brighter, whiter and give a brilliant light. Camouflaging support beams is a great way to add storage or visual interest. Build a cabinet or wall around each beam to hide it completely.

ADD TO IT

Too often, basements lack the same details the rest of the house enjoys, or they have inferior details, such as smaller trim around doors. When adding trim, cabinetry and other details in your basement, go for the same quality you'd demand upstairs. This will help the space blend with the rest of the house and look cohesive. Attractive wall treatments, such as stone or tile, will also unify the space and add interest.

Sylvia E. King-Cohen contributed to this story.

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